JDAI Practices Ease Flow of Committed Youth to State Corrections and Sustain Lower Populations

Posted December 13, 2012
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Jdai practices

Texas and Louisiana have recent­ly seen sub­stan­tial reduc­tions in their youth cor­rec­tions pop­u­la­tions due to sys­temic realign­ment, down­siz­ing, and shut­ter­ing juve­nile insti­tu­tions. Noto­ri­ous juve­nile insti­tu­tions were forced to close as state and fed­er­al lit­i­ga­tion exposed abu­sive and dan­ger­ous con­di­tions of con­fine­ment. The Texas leg­is­la­ture passed sweep­ing reform leg­is­la­tion ban­ning youth with low-lev­el offens­es from state cus­tody and trans­fer­ring respon­si­bil­i­ty for them to coun­ty juve­nile jus­tice agencies.

These changes raised con­cern that local deten­tion cen­ters would end up hous­ing those adju­di­cat­ed youth who could no longer be shipped off to state cus­tody. It now appears that those fears were unfound­ed. As admis­sions to state youth cor­rec­tions declined, local offi­cials were con­cur­rent­ly imple­ment­ing JDAI strate­gies to reduce the flow of youth into deten­tion and iden­ti­fy home- and com­mu­ni­ty-based options for low-lev­el youth and misdemeanants.

The data sug­gest that JDAI prac­ti­tion­ers were not only able to reduce their deten­tion pop­u­la­tions, but also keep low-lev­el youth out of secure care. In doing so they less­ened the bur­den on state youth cor­rec­tions and helped sus­tain the big reduc­tions in the insti­tu­tion­al­ized populations.


In Texas the shift of non­vi­o­lent offend­ers from state to coun­ty con­trol was swift and mon­u­men­tal. The state’s insti­tu­tions housed 5,650 youth in 2000. But when its youth cor­rec­tions sys­tem faced an ugly sex abuse scan­dal, Texas reversed course. Sweep­ing reform leg­is­la­tion passed in 2007 pro­hib­it­ed com­mit­ments of mis­de­meanants to its juve­nile insti­tu­tions. The state’s com­mit­ted pop­u­la­tion sub­se­quent­ly dropped by 67 per­cent, going from 4,800 youth in 2006 to 1,800 by 2010, as the respon­si­bil­i­ty for low-lev­el offend­ers shift­ed to local jurisdictions.

The change con­cerned some local offi­cials, who feared they were not equipped to serve large num­bers of youth pre­vi­ous­ly com­mit­ted to state cus­tody. Not only was local bed capac­i­ty an issue: The offi­cials wor­ried that even non­vi­o­lent chron­ic offend­ers would prove unman­age­able giv­en lim­it­ed local pro­gram options. Har­ris (Hous­ton) and Dal­las (Dal­las) coun­ties, both JDAI sites, typ­i­cal­ly sent large num­bers of youth to the Texas Youth Commission. 

It was com­mon prac­tice in Texas, when all local resources had been exhaust­ed, to com­mit the habit­u­al mis­de­meanor offend­er to the state,” Har­ris Coun­ty Chief Juve­nile Pro­ba­tion Offi­cer Tom Brooks said.

But the changes in state pol­i­cy pro­vid­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Har­ris and Dal­las coun­ties to change the way they treat misdemeanants.
By 2010, Har­ris Coun­ty had com­mit­ted 70 per­cent few­er youth to the Texas Youth Com­mis­sion than in 2006. When the Texas reform law passed, the Har­ris Coun­ty deten­tion cen­ter was over­crowd­ed. But in 2010 the aver­age dai­ly pop­u­la­tion had dropped by 22 per­cent com­pared to 2006.

The JDAI site in Dal­las Coun­ty also defied expec­ta­tions, reduc­ing its deten­tion pop­u­la­tion by 34 per­cent between 2007 and 2009.
New­ly designed deten­tion risk screen­ing instru­ments, used by both Texas sites to eval­u­ate youth and deter­mine the need for secure, locked con­fine­ment were fun­da­men­tal to keep­ing low-lev­el youth out of coun­ty deten­tion facil­i­ties. Both sites also cre­at­ed alter­na­tives to deten­tion, using state appro­pri­at­ed dol­lars to help local juris­dic­tions iden­ti­fy place­ments for the hun­dreds of youth removed from state institutions.

Har­ris Coun­ty hired a deten­tion expe­d­i­tor, closed a 45-bed facil­i­ty, divert­ed low-risk youth to shel­ter care, opened an evening report­ing cen­ter, decreased its num­ber of out­stand­ing writs and war­rants, and devel­oped a struc­tured deci­sion-mak­ing grid for youth who have vio­lat­ed pro­ba­tion. Har­ris Coun­ty has 4,000 few­er for­mal cas­es requir­ing court appear­ances since it opened a deferred pros­e­cu­tion pro­gram, divert­ing youth who com­mit non­vi­o­lent mis­de­meanor offens­es to 90- or 180-day com­mu­ni­ty super­vi­sion. The dis­trict attor­ney no longer files peti­tions on mis­de­meanor B offens­es. This pro­gram dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduced the delin­quen­cy dock­ets in Har­ris Coun­ty juve­nile court. A spe­cial court dock­et is intend­ed to keep juve­niles with men­tal ill­ness in their home by link­ing youth and their fam­i­lies to com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices and treat­ment. Since its incep­tion in 2009, 87 per­cent of all youth have suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ed the program.

It quick­ly became appar­ent that a lot of these kids didn’t need to be in the sys­tem, and if we pro­vid­ed a lit­tle sup­port, more often than not they out­grew their need for assis­tance,” Brooks said. By reduc­ing the num­ber of youth in the sys­tem, con­cen­trat­ed efforts can be made to meet the needs of youth under for­mal supervision.”


Fed­er­al lit­i­ga­tion and local advo­ca­cy over deplorable con­di­tions in Louisiana’s youth pris­ons set the stage for 2003 leg­isla­tive reforms that closed the infa­mous Tal­lu­lah facil­i­ty, reduced the state’s com­mit­ted pop­u­la­tion, and cre­at­ed an inde­pen­dent juve­nile jus­tice agency. Louisiana reduced the num­ber of youth in secure cus­tody by 60 per­cent between 1997 and 2007, low­er­ing its aver­age dai­ly pop­u­la­tion of incar­cer­at­ed youth from 2,190 to 849. Today there are approx­i­mate­ly 500 youth in state facil­i­ties across Louisiana.

JDAI was invit­ed into Louisiana in 2006 when stake­hold­ers, includ­ing the sher­iffs’ asso­ci­a­tion and the dis­trict attor­neys’ asso­ci­a­tion, real­ized that in order to restruc­ture the state’s juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem and to main­tain gains already made at the back end, it was going to be impor­tant to expand the scope of reform to include the local lev­el. The five largest parish­es in Louisiana are home to the state’s five largest deten­tion cen­ters and are all JDAI sites.

These five juris­dic­tions con­tin­ue to achieve the great­est decrease in com­mit­ments to state care,” said Dane Bolin, direc­tor of juve­nile jus­tice ser­vices in Cal­casieu Parish. Cal­casieu Parish, for exam­ple, com­mit­ted 108 kids to state cus­tody in 1998, but only 13 in 2010, a reduc­tion of 87 per­cent. More­over, between 2003 and 2010, the pop­u­la­tion of the Cal­casieu deten­tion cen­ter fell from 31 to 17 and admis­sions declined by half.

The Louisiana JDAI sites real­lo­cat­ed fund­ing from secure deten­tion to com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives and imple­ment­ed risk assess­ment instru­ments. Cad­do Parish reduced the num­ber of youth placed in deten­tion for mis­de­meanor offens­es by expand­ing and fund­ing a local tru­an­cy pro­gram to accept mis­de­meanants as well as truants.

With­out a doubt the local reform mea­sures have tak­en the bur­den off of the state. Not only have our state com­mit­ments dropped but our deten­tion pop­u­la­tion has decreased and we are now using the mon­ey that used to go to deten­tion for com­mu­ni­ty-based pro­grams,” Bolin said.
We rec­og­nize that the more times a kid is detained the high­er the chance that he will be com­mit­ted to a state facil­i­ty. We work hard to keep deten­tion reserved for youth who are deter­mined to be a risk to pub­lic safe­ty. It’s clear that by low­er­ing our deten­tion pop­u­la­tion we are also reduc­ing the num­ber of kids that we com­mit to the state.”


Due to JDAI core strate­gies, includ­ing risk assess­ment, expe­dit­ed case pro­cess­ing, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and com­mu­ni­ty-based alter­na­tives, these local deten­tion pop­u­la­tions are con­sid­er­ably low­er than they were despite their states’ dein­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion efforts. In addi­tion, these states’ com­mit­ted pop­u­la­tions have remained low, as local­i­ties have reduced the num­ber of youth they are committing. 

The gains may indi­cate a move toward more delib­er­ate deci­sion-mak­ing about the use of deten­tion, and sen­si­tiv­i­ty to the neg­a­tive effects of over-reliance on deten­tion and the impact that indi­vid­ual deten­tion deci­sions have on out­comes for the whole juve­nile jus­tice system.
Reform efforts, at both the state and the local lev­els, remain a work in progress,” said Bart Lubow, direc­tor of the Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion. How­ev­er it appears that the JDAI approach com­ple­ments deep-end realign­ment by guard­ing against inap­pro­pri­ate secure placements.”

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